To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Adrienne Dorn of The Cedar shares her perspective on Saturday night’s performance by CocoRosie. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Hoping for input and inspiration, I told a co-worker that that I was writing a review of Saturday night’s CocoRosie performance at The Cedar, and he said, “Whoa. I’m glad I don’t have to do that.” That reaction seemed appropriate given the sisters’ bizarre — perhaps indescribable — but amazing performance this past weekend.
I was introduced to CocoRosie nearly ten years ago. For someone who initially found Joanna Newsom inaccessible, I am not sure how I so quickly and deeply fell in love with the sisters’ sound. Their music includes elements of opera, hip-hop, and electronica. Bianca’s shaky and childlike voice could come off as grating but somehow works in conjunction with Sierra’s operatic soprano.
When I started as the director of development at The Cedar Cultural Center in 2006, I also started my venture to get CocoRosie booked at our venue. We came close a few times. At one point, after an initial positive response from their management, our then-artistic director told me that all tour plans were on hold because the sisters were allegedly in a Parisian jail. Years later and in partnership with the Walker, we finally secured a date, and my dream of CocoRosie at The Cedar came to fruition.
The artists hadn’t performed in Minnesota for years, so we didn’t have a solid idea of the ticket sales or audience to expect for a CocoRosie performance. It’s possible that my memory is misleading me, but it felt like it was a soldout crowd of juggalos and dungeon masters (though CocoRosie has nothing to do with Insane Clown Posse or Dungeons and Dragons). I never expected such a cult following of folks who dress up in the same clown-like, fairy tale costuming that matches the sisters’ performance attire.
The performance was dynamic and multifaceted and included costume changes, set designs, choreographed stage lighting, and a video backdrop. The stage was set up like a dressing room and included a vanity with a mirror in front of a clothesline that had random apparel hanging from it. CocoRosie’s work has feminist themes, and their costuming reflected this: they wore long but unkempt hair, makeup that emphasized their cheek bones but in a grossly exaggerated and clown-like way, and flowing dresses that were dingy and ripped, all complemented with gaps in their front teeth that appeared to be colored with black Sharpie.
I’ve seen plenty of performances that use flashy theatrics as a sort of cover up for less-than-stellar musicianship, but that was not the case here. The music was beautiful. The live performance provided a combination of beat boxing, opera, and pop. Bianca’s signature nasally voice and Sierra’s unapologetic opera filled the room and captivated the audience. The talented beat boxer, Tez, replaced the percussion and bells in the recorded music. Later in the show, he performed an amazing solo that highlighted his contributions to the overall sound and made his work stand out that much more for the remainder of the performance. At various times, Bianca and Sierra used other instruments, including a wooden flute and a harp, to accompany their vocals. The fourth member of the band played keyboard, piano, and even trumpet to round out the group’s sound. The performance had an almost dark and foreboding aura that was lifted up when Sierra invited a group of children (allegedly the sisters’ stepsiblings, also wearing clown-like makeup) on the stage to sing along.
CocoRosie’s elaborate costuming and nearly antagonizing sound do not come off as pretentious or weird for weird’s sake. Rather, the music — and the entire performance — was beautiful, haunting, and oddly accessible for such a bizarrely different artistic approach.